Beirut in ruins; background on the beirut explosion

The death toll rises to 135, with more than 5,000 wounded , 300,000 homes destructed and a continuous search for dozens reported missing. Lebanon is in national mourning, whilst striving to rise from its ruins.

An explosion went off near the port of Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. The impact of the blast was so severe that tremors were felt as far as 150 miles (240 kilometers) away in Cyprus. While we are still waiting to hear more about this tragedy, we can take stock of what we already know. 

At about 6 p.m. (local time) in a warehouse at the port of Beirut, the explosion erupted. The blast has left almost 150 people confirmed dead and 5000 wounded. Dozens more people have been reported missing since the blast, with a now frantic search ongoing for survivors. 

The explosion produced a crater around 405 feet in diameter. To put this into scale, a football field is only 360 feet in length. A ship had even been blown out of the water onto the dock of the harbour. Furthermore, much of the capital city’s business and shopping district has been leveled by the discharge of the explosion; food stocks have also been destroyed as grain silos (85% of the countries grain supply) were amid those structures in the immediate area of the blast. 

The cause of the explosion; almost 3000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate negligently stored in the warehouse. Ammonium nitrate, an agricultural chemical, usually used as a fertiliser for plants and at times as a component in explosives, had caught alight from a fire that had preceded the explosion.

There are usually strict guidelines as to the handling and storage of such substances; in this case, the ammonium nitrate should have been stored away from fuel oil and sources of heat. Hence, once the initial fire came into contact with the dangerous chemical compound, an explosion was not a surprise. 

But how did it come to be that such a colossal quantity of the chemical was left unsafely stored in a portside warehouse? Evidence was uncovered that officials knew of the dangerous substance and that it had been stored in a warehouse near the port since 2013, when a Russian-owned cargo ship (the Rhosus) bound for Mozambique made port in Beirut carrying the ammonium nitrate. The ship was later impounded by Lebanese officials, due to the owners failure to pay port fees. The chemicals were removed from the vessel and stored in the warehouse; where it remained for around 7 years. Custom officials had written to the judiciary six times between 2014 and 2017, regarding the disposal of the material; the lebanese government continuously failed to respond. Thus, the explosion is now being considered government negligence

This disaster could not have come at a worse time for Lebanon, the country is already facing an economic crisis. There are also tensions over the upcoming verdict in a trial over the killing of Rafik Hariri in 2005; former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Marwan Abboud, Beirut’s Governor, has estimated that the capital alone may suffer losses of £8-11 billion due to the explosion and the amount of damage it caused. The Lebanese capital is home to around 2 million people, but Governor Abboud has said that 300,000 people have been made temporarily homeless due to the blast. 

The Beirut St George’s Hospital was within the blast radius, this would have been the hospital that received the first cohort of injured people due to its proximity to the explosion. Hospital staff resorted to treating patients in the parking area, as the explosion left the hospital without any electrical power. It is in these conditions that citizens are being treated.

The Lebanese capital is now receiving much needed medical and humanitarian aid from countries around the world. But as Lebanon struggles under the circumstances of such a devastating event in the face of a global pandemic and their own economic crisis; further support and aid will be needed to rebuild what has been destroyed by this devastating explosion.

How you can help the victims in Lebanon:

The Lebanese Red Cross:

Lebanese food bank:

Impact Lebanon:

Beit el Baraka:

Amel Association:

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